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Memorials

Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman

 

One People, One Heart?

 

Security was tight for New York City’s annual Israel parade. Police lined the streets. No spectators, except those in the reviewing stands near the end of the parade, were allowed on the west side of the street. I was told by Rick Firestone that the security for spectators was intense: an hour in line with the need to go through metal detectors. The usual demonstrators near the Plaza, a group of Neturei Karta rejecting Zionism and a group of Palestinians promoting their cause, were absent. Crosstown streets were blocked from below 52nd to north of the parade’s end at 74th Street. Helicopters patrolled the skies. Participants and spectators should have had a sense of security in these tense times. (Though as Sarrae and I concluded, a couple of crazies in one of the apartment buildings lining 5th Avenue could have done serious harm before the police would have caught up to them. Thank God for their absence.)

 

It was an impressive crowd of walkers. Contingents not only from day schools in the New York metropolitan area were on hand, as were groups from various organizations and synagogues—Sarrae and I joined the American Zionist Movement group--, but so were delegations from communities further away such as New Haven and Philadelphia.

 

The theme was togetherness which was encapsulated in the phrase Am Echad Lev Echad, one people, one heart. And yet, one could but not notice this wasn’t quite true. Other than the fact that 50,000 marchers pales in comparison to the nearly half a million who made it to DC back in the fall, there were significant elements of the community absent. Other than a solitary flag which proclaimed “Mashiach now”, there was no hint of the presence of Chabad—perhaps because they couldn’t get men to put on tefillin they absented themselves--, let alone others from the Hassidic world. And those on the left of the spectrum were fewer in number this year. Moreover, there was some grumbling from the hostage families, who headed up the parade, about the participation of Israeli government officials including the Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

 

And having read some of the reflections of my Israeli colleagues, the way ahead is not so clear: continued military operations in Gaza or agreeing to a ceasefire and the return of some of the hostages. (This article in The Jerusalem Post about the number of fighters Hamas still has makes for depressing reading: https://www.jpost.com/israel-hamas-war/article-805268. )

 

Emblematic of this split was a t-shirt that we saw someone wearing on the subway after the rally: the two phrases in Hebrew but with a torn heart. That is how many feel: a sense that the nation is not united; that we are divided on a variety of existential issues, including the Gaza campaign and once again the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox into the military at a time when those in the reserves are again being called up and taken from their families and their jobs. There is an absence of trust in the current government which many see as having allowed October 7th to happen. (The denial, earlier this week, by Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich of culpability for the events of 10/7 goes hand in hand with denials from other politicians. On the other hand, some of the military have admitted to their failures.) Our hearts are broken; we are 57 years after the reunification of Jerusalem—Wednesday was both the anniversary of the start of the Six Day War and the Hebrew date of the conquest of the Old City--, sadly disunited and troubled about the present and the future.

 

Were it not so.

 

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach.

 

P.S. Next week is Shavuot, an overlooked blip of a Jewish holiday. Tuesday night, the 11th, you are invited to join with the festivities at Dix Hills: services at 8 pm, followed by a dairy supper and then a couple of hours of study in honor of the giving of the Torah. (I will be teaching one of the sessions.) Wednesday, June 12th, at 10 am, services in our sanctuary. We will include Yizkor: an opportunity as Rabbi Woznica wrote in the Torah comment I shared to communicate with family and friends no longer in the land of the living.

 

Here is the link for our Friday evening service at 8 p.m.:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83736031460

Meeting ID: 837 3603 1460

Saturday morning in the sanctuary at 10 a.m.

 

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Payrush LaParshahah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion

 

The portion of B’midbar (Numbers 2:1-3:13) is read this Shabbat, June 8th8. And with it we begin the Book of Numbers.

 

2:1 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: (2) The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of meeting at a distance.

 

2:2 Each with his standard, under the banners…Rashi writes. Each tribe had a banner with a silk cloth. The color of the silk was the color of its precious stone that each tribe had on the breastplate. The same was on the garment that the high priest wore when he did the service in the Tabernacle. That garment had precious stones for each tribe. Each precious stone had its own color, and the banner was that color. Thus, each person could tell from a distance his tribe with his banner. Another explanation of “banner” means that the tribes rested around the Tabernacle the same way that Jacob had commanded them to carry him out of Egypt to be buried. Jacob had said how they should go. Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon should carry in the east. Reuben, Simeon, and Gad to the west. In this way he arranged all of the children, each in his place. So too, the Holy One told them to carry the Tabernacle, and the Ark with the Tablets. (Tze’enah Ure’enah cited in the English translation in Sefaria. https://www.sefaria.org/Numbers.2.2?lang=bi&with=Tze%27enah%20Ure%27enah&lang2=en. Tze’enah Ure’enah [Go Forth and See] was composed by Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi. Born in 1550 in Lublin, Poland, he later lived in Janow Lubelski, a town in eastern Poland. Rabbi Ashkenazi was an itinerant preacher. In the 1590s he wrote in Yiddish this mixture of traditional commentaries and midrash on the weekly Torah and haftorah portions. It was aimed at women whose knowledge of Hebrew was limited. Three early editions were published, none of which survive. The earliest extant edition is the one printed in Hanau [a community in Hesse] in 1622. Since then, literally hundreds of editions have been published. Art Scroll published in 1993 a two volume English translation: The Weekly Midrash: Tz'enah Ur'enah the Classic Anthology of Torah Lore and Midrashic Commentary. A critical edition in English was issued by my colleague Rabbi Morris Faierstein in 2017. In addition to the Tze’enah Ure’enah, Rabbi Ashkenazi wrote, also in Yiddish Metliz Yosher [Champion of the Right] and Sefer HaMagid [The Book that Tells], which extends his Yiddish commentary to other sections of the Bible. He was also a noted legal scholar and some of his decisions were incorporated into the Hebrew volume Shoresh Yaakov, [The Root of Jacob]. He died in the 1620’s. ([I found 3 different years for the year of his death: 1624, 1625, and 1628]).

Questions for B’midbar 5784 (Numbers 2:1-3:13)

  1. Why were Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan designated as the leaders of the 4 camps of Israel?
  2. Where else in the Bible is Nachshon ben Amminadab mentioned? How about in the midrash?
  3. Why is the chief of Simon deemed to be the progenitor of the schlemiel?
  4. Which names of the tribal chieftains re-appear in later literature? 
  5. What is the most common name of God found in the theophoric names of the chieftains? What other names of God are used in these compound names? Which name is absent?
  6. Which was the second largest tribe? What is surprising about the size of Reuben relative to the other tribes under its control?
  7. If one understands the Hebrew word “eleph”, usually translated as “thousand,” as “military unit” what would have been the approximate number of combat-age males? Is this a more realistic number?
  8. What is missing from the beginning of chapter 3?
  9. In what way were the anointed priests related to the Mashiach?
  10. What were the functions of the Levites?
  11. Who should have served as aides to the priests if not the Levites?

 

Questions for the Haftorah (Hosea 2:1-22)

  1. What positive images did Hosea offer?
  2. How did Hosea describe Israel’s infidelity to God? What were the signs of ingratitude?
  3. What punishments were to befall the unfaithful nation?
  4. Beginning in verse 16, the prophet shifts gears. What are the signs of this new day of relationship? There is nostalgia for what period in Israel’s history?
  1. Where are the final two verses to be found in the prayerbook?

The Torah reading for the First Day of Shavuot (June 12th) is Exodus 19:1-20:23.

20:12 Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that the Lord your God is assigning to you.

The relationship between children and parents is often among life’s most beautiful and most complicated. So significant is the commandment in the Torah “Honor your father and your mother…” that the Talmud teaches that when we show honor to our parents, we honor God. Indeed, buy honoring our parents, we bring God into our homes; a home where parents are treated with respect and dignity is a home where God lives.

It is noteworthy that God does not command us to love our parents. Love is an emotion, and Judaism rarely mandates human emotion. After all, how can we be commanded to feel when we have little control over our most private thoughts and feelings? Judaism is primarily concerned with our actions. Although our feelings often drive our actions, Judaism wisely understands that how we act will ultimately shape our feelings.

Even in the best of child-parent relationships, there are moments of mixed emotions. In those trying moments, we can, however, act honorably toward our parents. In fact, it is precisely at those times, we should remember that most parents want very much for their children to love them and that, in most cases, a parent’s love for their child is deep and everlasting. As children, undoubtedly there were times when we caused our parents grief. Perhaps we were asserting newfound teenage independence or became preoccupied with friends of hobbies. Or as adults, we become so immersed in our work or families that we may find it difficult to make enough time for them. …

When I was in college, a letter that appeared in the editorial section of our university newspaper struck me. It was from a young woman whose father had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. What made the situation particularly heart wrenching was that their last conversation had been a terrible argument. The woman predicted that she would be haunted for the rest of her life by these last fighting words and implored the readers never to conclude conversations in such a way….

One of Judaism’s greatest gifts is Yizkor, the service when we remember those who are no longer with us. While many jews associate Yizkor exclusively with Yom Kippur, it is actually recited four times each year.

Whether in the context of a Yizkor service, or, if you prefer, in a quiet private moment, take a few minutes to say the words to your parents that you never said, the words you always wanted to say. Close your eyes and in your mind reach out to take the hand of your mother or father and say the words in your heart. “Thank you for all that you did for me, for shaping my life, for feeding me, for helping me …” … (Rabbi David Woznica, “Honor and Love” in Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, editor, The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary: New Insights from Jewish men on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions, pp.113-115. Rabbi Woznica grew up in the Los Angeles area and received B.A.s from UCLA and the University of Judaism. He was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. After ordination he became the founding director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at the 92nd Street Y, where he established the Forum on Jewish Values, which enabled him to engage in public conversations with leading figures. He returned to California in 2001 where he assumed a similar role with the Jewish Federation. He joined the staff of Stephen Wise Temple in 2004 where he oversaw the congregation’s Center for Jewish Life, including directing the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning. In 2018 he was designated as the first occupant of the Isaiah Zeldin Rabbinic Chair, created in memory of the congregation’s founding rabbi. He also serves as a trustee of the Milken Community School. He is a highly regarded lecturer.)

 

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Questions for Shavuot 6784 (Exodus 19:1-20:23)

 

  1. How long did it take for the Israelites to get from Egypt to Mount Sinai? How many miles was it from the Sea of Reeds?
  2. How often does the term Beit Yaakov/House of Jacob appear in the Torah? Which prophet used the term the most?
  3. In the light of 19:4, should the memorial prayer read “on the wings of the Shechinah” instead of “beneath the wings of the Shechinah?”
  4. What were the implications of being a “kingdom of priests?”
  5. Did the Israelites act precipitously when they declared “All that the Lord has spoken we will do?” Should they have waited for the specifics?
  6. Psalm 136 thanks God for many things, including the Exodus, the manna, and the conquests of the kings on the east bank of the Jordan, but omits mentioning the revelation at Sinai (unlike Dayenu). Venture a theory as why this was the case?
  7. How did Moses later God’s command about preparations for the Revelation at Sinai?
  8. On the basis of the description beginning in 19:16, should we be looking for a now inactive volcano as the locus of Mount Sinai or at least a mountain in an earthquake zone?
  9. Where was Moses when God began to speak? Aaron?
  10. Does the Torah ever use the term Aseret HaDibrot/the 10 Statements?
  11. Is “I the Lord am your God who brought you of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage” a commandment or only a preamble? How many commandments are to be found between 20:1 and 20:14?
  12. Did the ban on images include only 3-dimensional artifacts?
  13. What prayers suggest that the two versions of the Sabbath commandment were given simultaneously?) Compare Exodus 19:10-11 with Deuteronomy 5:12-15.)
  14. How much of “The Ten Commandments” did Israel hear?
  15. Why does the postscript include a reiteration on the ban on graven images?

 

Questions for the Haftorah (Ezekiel 1:1-28, 3:12)

 

  1. The 30th year of what? And where was the Chebar canal?
  2. What set Ezekiel apart from all the other literary prophets?
  3. What were the four faces of the beings Ezekiel encountered?
  4. Were the wheels mentioned beginning in verse 15 flying saucers? Did Ezekiel have an encounter of the 3rd kind?
  5. What image of God does Ezekiel offer?
  6. Why the supplement of 3:12?
  1.  

 

Thu, June 13 2024 7 Sivan 5784